I had to remember a song by Sting when I made my first steps onto the National Eisteddfod grounds just changing them ever so slightly in my head: “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m a German girl at the Maes” (or is it ‘on the Maes’?). At least this was a bit how I felt. It wasn’t my first time at a National Eisteddfod having been before a couple of years back when it was in Mold, however it never stops to amaze me how “foreign” you can feel out of a sudden. Don’t get me wrong, all the people there are very friendly and helpful but as it is the National Eisteddfod everything – and I literally mean everything – is in Welsh. And as Welsh is still a language I yet have to learn… well, you get the idea. However, what this gives you is a sense of living in a country that has its own identity and is proud of it. I get along with English in my everyday life, so it is easy to forget that Wales has its own language and traditions and that it is NOT England. And don’t worry, you get along with English at the Eisteddfod just fine.
So what is the Eisteddfod? Let’s give you a rough idea. An Eisteddfod is a week-long Welsh festival of literature, music and performance and dates back to at least the 12th Century. Lord Rhys held a grand gathering in 1176 to which poets and musicians from all over the country were invited. A chair at the Lord’s table was awarded to the best poet and musician and this tradition has been held up to these days. Each year a special chair is still carved for the victorious poets.
The Eisteddfod site is always know as the ‘Maes’ and the main competitions take place in the Pink Pavillion. Around the pavillion are many stalls (over 300 this year) offering everything from art to books, food & drink and entertainment for children, together with a live open air performance stage where you can catch some of Wales’ bands. There’s around 150,000 visitors each year – many of them staying for the whole week – and they come from all over Wales and beyond. The Eisteddfod is held at a different location in Wales each year.
I spent a couple of hours in the Pink Pavillion listening to the competitions. Without understanding a single word? Yes. You can get a free translation equipment so you can follow the proceedings on stage. But when it comes to music you don’t need to understand every word to get the feeling behind a song. As they say, music is a universal language. The quality of the performances was stunning and I often got goose bumps when I heard a song.
If you really want to get a taste of Welsh tradition and culture then this is the place to go. And if you are curious now here’s a link with more information www.eisteddfod.org.uk